The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes

2023 film by Francis Lawrence

  • Michael Lesslie
  • Michael Arndt
Based onThe Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
by Suzanne CollinsProduced by
  • Nina Jacobson
  • Brad Simpson
  • Francis Lawrence
Starring
CinematographyJo WillemsEdited byMark YoshikawaMusic byJames Newton Howard
Production
companies
  • Color Force
  • Good Universe
  • Lionsgate Films
Distributed byLionsgate Films
Release dates
  • November 5, 2023 (2023-11-05) (Berlin)
  • November 17, 2023 (2023-11-17) (United States)
Running time
157 minutes[1]CountryUnited StatesLanguageEnglishBudget$100 million[2]Box office$338.1 million[3][4]

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes is a 2023 American dystopian action film directed by Francis Lawrence from a screenplay by Michael Lesslie and Michael Arndt. Based on the 2020 novel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins, it serves as a prequel to The Hunger Games (2012), and is the fifth installment in The Hunger Games film series. The film stars Tom Blyth, Rachel Zegler, Peter Dinklage, Jason Schwartzman, Hunter Schafer, Josh Andrés Rivera, and Viola Davis. Set 64 years before the events of the first film, its plot follows the events that lead a young Coriolanus Snow on the path to becoming the tyrannical leader of Panem, including his relationship with the Hunger Games District 12 tribute Lucy Gray Baird during the 10th Hunger Games.

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes held its world premiere in Berlin, Germany on November 5, 2023,[5] and was released in the United States on November 17, 2023, by Lionsgate Films. The film received mixed reviews from critics and was a financial success having grossed $338.1 million worldwide against a budget of $100 million.

Plot

In dystopian, war-ravaged Panem, the Snow family patriarch General Crassus Snow dies in the First Rebellion between the Capitol and the thirteen Districts. This fact, along with the Snow's assets being tied into the now destroyed District 13, has left the family impoverished. Years later, Crassus' son Coriolanus is one of twenty-four Academy students selected to mentor a 10th Annual Hunger Games tribute. Coriolanus' wealthy friend and fellow mentor, Sejanus Plinth, resents the Games' cruelty. Sejanus is originally from District 2, but his father, Strabo Plinth, sided with the Capitol during the war and managed to buy their family's way out of the Districts. Coriolanus hopes for the Plinth Prize scholarship, awarded to the mentor of the Games' victor, so he can attend University, and thus allow him to provide for his cousin Tigris and their grandmother. Games creator and Academy Dean, Casca Highbottom, advises the mentors to focus on entertainment rather than tributes winning.

Coriolanus is assigned District 12's female tribute, Lucy Gray Baird. During the reaping ceremony, she engaged Capitol viewers by slipping a snake down the dress of Mayor Lipp's daughter, Mayfair, then defiantly singing. Coriolanus earns Lucy Gray's trust accompanying her to the Capitol Zoo, where tributes are publicly caged, and smuggling her food. He promotes her to Capitol citizens, to Highbottom's displeasure, since he intentionally paired Coriolanus with a District 12 tribute to try and set him up for failure. Other mentors also bring their tributes food. Arachne Crane taunts her tribute, refusing to hand over the food, so she breaks a glass bottle and slits Arachne's neck. Coriolanus comforts her as she dies in his arms.

Dr Gaul assigns the mentors a written assignment to come up with ways to increase Game viewership. Coriolanus writes a proposal on his own, where he devises a sponsorship scheme: to increase ratings, Capitol viewers can wager on tributes or make monetary contributions so the mentors can send food and water to their tributes. Coriolanus' academic partner, Clemensia Dovecote, claims partial credit for the essay. Gaul places the paper into a tank of genetically modified snakes and forces both student to reach in and retrieve it. Coriolanus manages it without any issue, since the snakes recognized his scent, but when Clemensia is forced to retrieve it, the snakes bite her and severly poison her, confirming Coriolanus' sole authorship.

During a Games arena tour, rebel bombs explode, killing several tributes and mentors and severely damaging the arena. Instead of fleeing, Lucy Gray chooses to save Coriolanus from debris, but Marcus, Sejanus's tribute and former classmate from District 2 escapes in the chaos. Before the Games begin, Coriolanus gives Lucy Gray a compact filled with rat poison as a weapon and says she can hide in the newly-exposed tunnel system in the damaged arena floor. The Games begin and Marcus, having been captured and severely tortured, is left agonized and hanging from a beam. District 7's female tribute Lamina climbs the beam and mercy kills Marcus. During the initial bloodbath, Lucy Gray escapes into a tunnel with fellow District 12 tribute, Jessup. Sejanus sneaks into the arena to mourn his fallen tribute and friend, Marcus. Gaul forces Coriolanus to retrieve Sejanus. A group of tributes attacks them, including a boy named Bobbin, and Coriolanus brutally beats him to death.

Lucy Gray is forced to leave the safety of the tunnels while being chased by a raving Jessup, who contracted rabies from a bat on the tributes' transport, and she kills a couple of tributes using the rat poison. The president's son, Felix Ravinstill, dies from injuries sustained during the bombing. As revenge, Gaul releases the modified snakes into the arena, killing every remaining tribute but Lucy Gray; earlier, Coriolanus had secretly placed a handkerchief bearing Lucy Gray's scent into the snake tank so the snakes would recognize and ignore her. Originally planning on leaving no survivors, but caving to public pressure, Gaul declares Lucy the victor. Later, Highbottom confronts Coriolanus with the handkerchief and the poison compact, both of which are recognizably from his family. Faced with public disgrace, he is forced to enlist for twenty years' Peacekeeper service. Coriolanus bribes an officer to transfer him to District 12, and Sejanus volunteers to join him.

In District 12, Coriolanus and Sejanus visit the Hob bar where Lucy Gray performs with the her family's nomadic band, called the Covey. Coriolanus and Lucy happily reunite and begin dating. Meanwhile, Sejanus becomes involved in an escape plot with rebels. Coriolanus confronts Sejanus and records his admission of plot involvement using a jabberjay, a genetically modified bird that can record and reproduce human voices, sending it to Gaul. Coriolanus later finds Sejanus meeting with rebel Spruce, Lucy Gray's ex-boyfriend Billy Taupe, and Billy's girlfriend Mayfair Lipp, the mayor's daughter. In the ensuing confrontation, Coriolanus fatally shoots Mayfair and Spruce kills Billy. Spruce hides the guns, but he and Sejanus are hanged for treason, Gaul later confirming that Sejanus was found out because of Coriolanus' recording. Mockingjays, a hybrid between the jabberjays and mockingbirds, imitate Sejanus' cries for his "Ma" and for Coriolanus to help him as he is hanged.

Shortly after, Coriolanus is set to transfer for officer training in District 2. Lucy Gray is being blamed by the Mayor for Mayfair's death since Mayfair had arranged for Lucy Gray to be reaped, so she and Coriolanus decide to flee north. Lucy Gray knows Coriolanus killed two people (Bobbin and Mayfair) but he accidentally admits to an unnamed third (Sejanus), raising her suspicions. At a small cabin in the woods, Coriolanus finds the hidden weapons tying him to Mayfair's murder. Lucy Gray, distrusting Coriolanus knowing she is the only remaining thing that could incriminate him, disappears into the woods. Coriolanus, pursuing her, is bitten and disoriented by a snake that Lucy Gray laid as a trap. He blindly shoots his rifle after mockingbirds mimic her voice from all directions, but her fate is left unknown.

Coriolanus hides the guns in the lake near the cabin. With no remaining evidence, he returns to District 12 and reports for his officer training. Rather than District 2, Coriolanus is sent to the Capitol. Gaul reveals she procured him an honorable discharge and a spot under her in the Capitol University as a Gamemaker intern. Sejanus's parents, unaware Coriolanus caused their son's death, make him their heir and pay for his tuition, in effect awarding him the Plinth Prize after all. Highbottom tells Coriolanus he never intended the Games to become a reality; he conceived the idea while drunk, but his friend, Crassus Snow, submitted the idea as their joint academic project. Highbottom abhorred the violence it caused and never forgave Crassus, turning to morphling. He mistreated Coriolanus because he hated his father, and blames Coriolanus for ensuring the Games' continued cruelty. Coriolanus slips poisoned morphling among Highbottom's vials, killing the dean and beginning his own rise to power.

Cast

  • Tom Blyth as Coriolanus "Coryo" Snow: A mentor for the upcoming 10th Hunger Games and future President of Panem
    • Dexter Sol Ansell as young Coriolanus
  • Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray Baird: The female tribute from District 12 who forms a connection with Coriolanus, and a member of the Covey, a travelling musician group
  • Josh Andrés Rivera as Sejanus Plinth: A classmate and friend of Snow, and the mentor to a tribute from District 2, his former home
  • Viola Davis as Dr. Volumnia Gaul: The head gamemaker of the 10th Hunger Games and the person who first implemented them
  • Peter Dinklage as Casca Highbottom: Dean of the academy and intellectual author of the Hunger Games
  • Jason Schwartzman as Lucretius "Lucky" Flickerman: The first television host for the 10th Hunger Games
  • Hunter Schafer as Tigris Snow: Coriolanus's older cousin and confidante. She would go on to become a stylist in the Games and an ally to Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2.
    • Rosa Gotzler as young Tigris
  • Fionnula Flanagan as Grandma'am: Coriolanus and Tigris's grandmother
  • Burn Gorman as Commander Hoff: The leader of the Peacekeepers in District 12
Additional mentors
  • Ashley Liao as Clemensia Dovecote: A classmate and friend of Snow, and a mentor to a tribute from District 11[6]
  • Max Raphael as Festus Creed: A classmate of Snow, and mentor to a tribute from District 4[7]
  • Zoe Renee as Lysistrata Vickers: A classmate of Snow, and mentor of the other District 12 tribute, Jessup[7]
  • Aamer Husain as Felix Ravinstill: A classmate of Snow, son of the President of Panem, and mentor to a tribute from District 11[6]
  • Lilly Cooper as Arachne Crane: A classmate of Snow, and a mentor to a tribute from District 10[8]
Additional tributes
  • Nick Benson as Jessup: The male tribute from District 12 alongside Lucy Gray[8]
  • Mackenzie Lansing as Coral: The female tribute from District 4 and leader of "the Pack"[6]
  • Cooper Dillon as Mizzen: The male tribute from District 4[9]
  • Hiroki Berrecloth as Treech: The male tribute from District 7
  • Kjell Brutscheidt as Tanner: The male tribute from District 10[9]
  • Dimitri Abold as Reaper: The male tribute from District 11
  • Irene Boehm as Lamina: The female tribute from District 7
  • Sofia Sanchez as Wovey: The young female tribute from District 8[7]
  • Knox Gibson as Bobbin: The male tribute from District 8
  • Luna Steeples as Dill: The female tribute from District 11
  • Luna Kuse as Brandy: The female tribute from District 10

Dakota Shapiro plays Billy Taupe, Lucy Gray's former love interest and a former member of the Covey.[9] Isobel Jesper Jones plays Mayfair Lipp, the daughter of District 12's mayor, a rival of Lucy Gray, and Billy Taupe's new girlfriend.[10] George Somner plays Spruce, a rebel citizen from District 12.[9] Other members of Lucy Gray's travelling musician group, the Covey, include Vaughan Reilly as Maude Ivory,[9] Honor Gillies as Barb Azure,[10] Eike Onyambu as Tam Amber,[10] and Konstantin Taffet as Clerk Carmine.[10] Additionally, Michael Greco and Daniela Grubert appear as Strabo Plinth and Mrs. Plinth, Sejanus' parents,[10] while Carl Spencer and Scott Folan appear as Smiley and Beanpole, two peacekeepers sent by the Capitol to District 12.[10]

Production

Development

Promotional poster in John Halle's Hall, a medieval hall house now the foyer of the Odeon Cinema, Salisbury, UK, April 15, 2023.

In August 2017 Lionsgate CEO Jon Feltheimer expressed interest in more stories in The Hunger Games film series, but only with the approval of the author or the series, Suzanne Collins.[11]

In June 2019, Joe Drake, chairman of the Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, announced that the company was working with author Suzanne Collins with regards to an adaptation of the novel The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes.[12] By April 2020, Collins and Lionsgate confirmed that plans were underway for the film's development. Francis Lawrence was later confirmed to direct, after doing so for the prior three films in the series since The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. The screenplay was written by Collins, Michael Arndt and Michael Lesslie, with Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson as producers along with Lawrence.[13][14] Concerned over the book's length, Lawrence briefly considered to split the film in two parts like he did with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2, but abandoned the idea to do so, due to his regrets over that decision. Jacobson felt that the finished film had a "daunting" length but feels that it "really goes by so fast".[15] Collins, in addition, would serve as an executive producer on the film.[14]

Casting

In May 2022, Tom Blyth was cast as the young President Snow,[16] with Rachel Zegler as his protégée, tribute Lucy Gray Baird.[17] Zegler was originally offered the role in January, but initially turned it down before later changing her mind.[18] In June 2022, Josh Andrés Rivera (who previously starred in 2021's West Side Story alongside Zegler), Hunter Schafer and Jason Schwartzman were cast.[19][20][21] Peter Dinklage was cast in the following month.[22] Throughout June and July 2022, the cast was rounded out with actors portraying the film's multiple tributes and mentors.[6][8][7][9] On August 15, 2022, it was reported that Viola Davis was cast as Volumnia Gaul, the head gamemaker of the 10th annual Hunger Games.[23] On September 16, 2022, more cast members were revealed, including Burn Gorman and Fionnula Flanagan.[10]

Filming

Filming began in Wrocław, Poland, on July 11, 2022, and ended in Berlin, Germany, on November 5, 2022.[14][24] Filming locations included the Monument to the Battle of the Nations in Leipzig,[25] the Strausberger Platz and the Olympic Stadium in Berlin and the Centennial Hall in Wrocław.[26] Some scenes in the film were also shot in the "Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord" in Duisburg in North Rhine-Westphalia,[27] and areas around Wałbrzych (Poland), including Boguszów-Gorce; a fragment of the trail leading to Chełmiec Mountain, and the lake in Grzędy.[28]

Music

The soundtrack for The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes contains the film's version of songs such as "The Hanging Tree", "Pure as the Driven Snow", which were live performed by Zegler, and produced by Dave Cobb, which heavily drew from Appalachian-country folk music.[29] The official soundtrack The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (Music From & Inspired By) was released on November 17, by Geffen Records featuring tracks performed by Zegler, as well as songs performed by established Americana and folk artists, and was led by two singles: "The Hanging Tree (Lucy Gray's version)" was released on October 20, 2023,[30] and "Can't Catch Me Now", performed by Olivia Rodrigo, was released on November 3.[31]

In July 2022, composer James Newton Howard confirmed that he would return to score the film.[32] Howard's score was released on November 17, 2023, by Sony Classical Records.[33]

Marketing

On October 30, 2023, the film was given an interim agreement so that actors could promote it during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike, since Lionsgate is not part of the AMPTP.[34]

Release

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes had its European premiere in Berlin, Germany on November 5, 2023,[5] its world premiere at the BFI IMAX in London on November 9, 2023,[35] and was released on November 16, in Europe[36] and November 17, 2023, by Lionsgate Films.[37]

Home media

The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes was released on digital and VOD on December 19, 2023.[38] The film was released on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD on February 13, 2024, by Lionsgate Home Entertainment.[39]

Reception

Box office

As of February 1, 2024[update], The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes has grossed $166.4 million in the United States and Canada, and $170.8 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $338.1 million.[3]

In the United States and Canada, The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes was released alongside Next Goal Wins, Trolls Band Together, and Thanksgiving, and was projected to gross around $50 million from 3,776 theaters in its opening weekend, with some industry estimates going as low as $45 million or as high as $60 million.[40][41] The film made $19.1 million on its first day, $5.75 million from Thursday night previews. It went on to debut to $44 million, topping the box office but marking the lowest start of the franchise.[2] The film made $29 million in its second weekend (a drop of 35%, the smallest of both the franchise and of any blockbuster in 2023), remaining in first.[42][43] The film finished in second place each of subsequent three weeks, with grosses of $14.5 million (finishing behind newcomer Renaissance: A Film by Beyoncé),[44] $9.4 million (behind newcomer The Boy and the Heron),[45] and $5.8 million (behind newcomer Wonka).[46] In its sixth weekend the film made $3.5 million, and a total of $5.4 million over the four-day Christmas frame, finishing in seventh.[47]

Critical response

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 64% of 235 critics' reviews are positive, with an average rating of 6.4/10. The website's consensus reads: "An outstanding cast and exciting story help make The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes a worthy return to Panem in spite of a rushed and somewhat frustrating ending."[48] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned the film a score of 54 out of 100, based on 52 critics, indicating "mixed or average" reviews.[49] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale, the lowest of the franchise, while those polled by PostTrak gave it an 87% overall positive score, with 70% saying they would definitely recommend the film.[2]

Zoe Guy of Vulture reported that "some critics view the 158-minute spectacle as an overwrought snoozefest, while others argue that Ballad is the most satisfying entry in the entire franchise".[50] NME's Alex Berry meanwhile characterised the initial critical response as "largely negative", noting that "the film has been criticised as lacking in the excitement and drama promised by the trailer, and not living up to the expectation following the first films".[51]

Writing for IndieWire, David Ehrlich named the film both the best young adult dystopian film and "by far" the strongest installment in The Hunger Games film series, describing it as "the rare prequel that manages to stand on its own two feet and still feel taller than the other stories it's ultimately meant to support".[52] RogerEbert.com's Christy Lemire complimented the "subtlety of this supervillain origin story" and described Blyth's performance as Coriolanus Snow as "a star-making performance".[53] Brian Truitt of USA Today praised it as "an enticing blend of dystopian action epic and musical drama that surpasses the previous films".[54] In a negative review for The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw wrote that "the interest, dramatic momentum and energy" of the franchise "have frankly expired", concluding that "this movie finally ties itself into various knots to prefigure the later world of Katniss, but the time to end the Games came long ago".[55] Clarisse Loughrey of The Independent criticized the film for "[squandering] the anger of novelist Suzanne Collins's source material" and "[diluting] its biggest villain", further deriding Snow's characterization as a "yassification of a future monster".[56]

Accolades

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipients Result Ref.
Alliance of Women Film Journalists January 4, 2024 EDA Special Mention Awards The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes Nominated [57]
Artios Awards March 7, 2024 The Zeitgeist Award Debra Zane, Dylan Jury and Simone Bär (Location Casting) Pending [58]
Costume Designers Guild Awards February 21, 2024 Excellence in Sci-Fi/Fantasy Film Trish Summerville Nominated [59]
Excellence in Costume Illustration Oksana Nedavniaya Nominated
Hollywood Music in Media Awards November 15, 2023 Original Score – Sci-Fi/Fantasy Film James Newton Howard Nominated [60]
Original Song – Sci-Fi/Fantasy Film "Can't Catch Me Now" - Olivia Rodrigo and Dan Nigro Won
North Carolina Film Critics Association January 3, 2024 Best Original Song Nominated [61]
Ken Hanke Memorial Tar Heel Award Hunter Schafer Nominated
People's Choice Awards February 18, 2024 Action Movie of the Year The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes Won [62]
Female Movie Star of the Year Viola Davis Nominated
Rachel Zegler Nominated
Action Movie Star of the Year Viola Davis Nominated
Rachel Zegler Won
Set Decorators Society of America Awards February 13, 2024 Best Achievement in Décor/Design of a Science Fiction or Fantasy Feature Film Sabine Schaaf and Uli Hanisch Nominated [63]
Society of Composers & Lyricists Awards February 13, 2024 Outstanding Original Song for a Dramatic or Documentary Visual Media Production "Can't Catch Me Now" - Olivia Rodrigo and Dan Nigro Won [64]

See also

References

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